The Garment Jungle
“The Garment Jungle” is a perfect example of why B-movies are much better at providing social commentary and working as political documents than A-list movies. You can enjoy “The Garment Jungle” purely as an exercise in noirish drama and not take away much of its social relevance. Or, you could pay close attention to its story of how the capitalist owners were quite willing to pay protection to organized crime in order to keep the union out.
This A-list movie is less enjoyable on purely cinematic terms than “The Garment Jungle.” The message overflows with little style and at times it can seem a little too draining on the narrative. Sally Field won an Oscar for the title of “Norma Rae” and while it is nice to see an uplifting view of unions in the movie, the problem may be that it is just a little too easy to see why business owners would not like Norma Rae and identify with that idiocy.
Something about the film noir genre make it the perfect aesthetic choice for exposing the corruption of the powerful. “Thieves’ Highway” is not just a great film noir, but a terrific revenge thriller. Behind the emotionally wrought plot is a glimpse into the little known dirty little underworld of the California produce industry. Get down and dirty with the truckers who are at the mercy of powerful dealers who are the small time titans of their own little capitalist island.
Salt of the Earth
“Salt of the Earth” is not just a document of a strike at a New Mexico zinc mine that lasted more than a year, it is a work of art made by those who were blacklisted by the power brokers running in Hollywood. The intersection of growing power among the unions coincided with the rise of anti-communist hysteria and the blacklisting of those spouting pro-union sympathies. Judge for yourself if the witch hunt and subsequent blacklist in Hollywood had more to do with fear of communists than it did to do with stemming the growing power of unions. Watch “Salt of the Earth” to see how movies can be emotionally gripping while explicitly promoting an ideological viewpoint.
On the Waterfront
The most famous movie ever made about the Labor Movement is also the worst. Watch “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” instead and avoid all Elia Kazan like the plague.